More than 1,000 people gathered in Grand Army Plaza on Thursday night to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah by lighting the borough’s largest menorah.
The joyful celebration, filled with live music and fresh latkes and hot chocolate to ward off the December chill, was particularly meaningful, attendees said, as antisemitism has spiked in New York City and across the country as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on.
“We are excited to have UJA Federation, as part of the Shine the Light initiative, partner with Chabad of Park Slope on this large community public menorah lighting last night,” said Rebecca Saidlower, Executive Director of Community Mobilizers at the UJA Federation. This year more than ever it feels incredibly important to celebrate our Judaism publicly and proudly, with all the increased antisemitism going on, we’re not going to hide away in the darkness, we’re going to bring our light out into the city even more.”
Musican Moshe Reuven joined Noam Buskila, an Israeli soldier and singer, in a special performance to begin the celebration as the sun went down. Attendees were joined by local leaders and elected officials, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“Hanukkah represents light over darkness and the power of miracles,” Williams said in a social media post about the event. “On the first night of Hanukkah, it was an honor to celebrate the lighting of the menorah with the Brooklyn community. In a world too often shrouded in darkness, we must strive to be a light, together.”
Saidlower said it was “incredibly important” for elected officials and other Brooklynites to show their support for the Jewish community — and that it was just as important to be reminded of Jewish resilience by faith leaders. Each year, the menorah is lit in remembrance of Jewish people fighting to observe their Judaism thousands of years ago, she said, and the story was especially meaningful to the crowd gathered in Grand Army Plaza on Thursday.
The event brought together Jewish people from all walks of life, she said.
“One thing that’s really special about Hanukkah is that it’s a holiday that we’re commanded to observe publicly, you need to light your menorah in a place where people can see it, which is why many people traditionally light their menorah in the window of their apartment or their home, so that people walking by can see it,” Saidlower said. “This year more than ever, we display our menorahs proudly, and we display our Judaism proudly.”
Chabad of Park Slope will host menorah-lighting celebrations at Grand Army Plaza each night for all eight nights of Hanukkah, with the last event scheduled for Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m.